Monday, January 26, 2009

Torrential Downpour

Teaching fear: rational or irrational?
I usually focus very well during class, but if I'm reading something aloud, and its the third time in the day I'm teaching the same section, and especially if I'm reading aloud something I've written, I admit that my mind sometimes wanders as I repeat the words on the page.

Afterward I'm always terrified: I was standing in front of the class saying words I was not conscious of saying. What if instead of reading the words, I said whatever it is my mind wanders to? What if I said something wildly inappropriate (if my mind wandered to a dirty joke I saw in a movie or TV show the night before, or hell, if I thought of a Philip Roth novel)?

This has never happened--I always apparently do an accurate job reading the text even if my mind is not focused (I do work with the written word for a living, after all). But on the rare times this happens, I'm always relieved when students ask me questions after class (I assume that if I said something crazy, they wouldn't ask me about basic class things like everything is normal).

Is this a rational or irrational fear? I should probably just make sure to focus my mind on the text I'm reading.

Present Tense in The Namesake
I usually find fiction written in the present tense irritating, phony. There's something natural about telling a story in the past tense, something empty and artificial about telling a story about right now.

In Jhumpa Lahiri's The Namesake, though, I am seeing the present tense as a considered and effective aesthetic choice. I'm not far into the book, but so far it takes place entirely in America--at least in the present tense. There is a past tense narration for one anecdote from Ashima's life in India, and a past tense narration for one longer anecdonte from Ashoke's life in India. The form suggests theme: life in India was past, life in America is now. There are few sentences that refer to the Ganguli family in India in the present tense (in one significant passage, the family prepares to take a trip to India, but the narration stops just as the plane leaves Boston and flies over the Atlantic).

But I'm not far into the book, and I have other ideas to flesh out later when I'm finished.

I feel like I live in two countries, so vastly different is the lifestyle of winter and summer in the upper midwest. The different clothing, the available leisure activities, the necessary chores, the very background of the world is so fundamentally different. The college semester spans these two countries, Fall Semester beginning in heat and ending in cold, Spring Semester beginning in cold and ending in heat.


Most of my family's books are piled haphazardly, cramped for space. I set up a bookshelf in the living room so I could look at beautiful books and be happy. My display choices are on the bottom, my wife's choices on top (if you care, clicking the photo should show an enlarged image).

1 comment:

  1. You win my vote with Shelley, Keats, and "Hamlet". Your wife gets props for Zadie Smith.

    Thank you for posting the picture.